A Mockery of Justice

Yesterday, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) court cleared the president's brother, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, of all charges in the 2004 torture of an Afghani grain dealer which was caught on tape. Before elaborating on the court ruling, I think the details of the case are worth reviewing: What triggered the torture was the allegation that the grain dealer, Mohammed Shah Poor, had short-changed Sheikh Issa on a delivery of a grain shipment. In response, the video shows Sheikh Issa taking the grain dealer to the desert, along with friends and police officers, where the gruesome torture scene unfolds. At first, the Sheikh orders police officers to restrain the victim on the ground as he proceeds to force sand into the victim's mouth and nose as he squirms to breath. The Sheikh then inserts an electric prod into the victim's anus, then pours lighter fluid on his testicles and sets them on fire. After that, he picks up a wooden board with a nail sticking out of it, and proceeds to strike the victim with it. He then pours salt into the victim's wounds before driving over him with his Mercedes SUV, crushing his bones. Throughout the tape, the Sheikh can be heard cursing the victim, as well as the cameraman whom the Sheikh repeatedly orders to get closer to better capture the scene. A video of the torture (edited to remove the most gruesome parts, but still quite disturbing) has been made available by ABC News (which first broke the story) and can be viewed here When news of this first broke, the Ministry of Interior quickly white-washed the incident, further noting that a review had found no police misconduct in this case. However, as pressure on the UAE mounted, Sheikh Issa was eventually put on trial, raising hopes that even a member of the royal family could be held accountable for such sadistic behavior. But such hopes were dashed yesterday when the court accepted the defense's argument that Sheikh Issa had been "drugged" and was "unaware of his action." The court did, however, find the whistle blowers who released the video guilty of "meddling with the Sheikh's medication to influence his actions" and of "broadcasting unauthorized private images," among other charges.

The victim, who survived this torture after extensive hospital treatment, said he forgave the Sheikh and wanted nothing at this point. It may be a genuine statement, or perhaps simply a wise thing to say for someone who continues to reside and work in the UAE, potentially as part of his compensation agreement which did include an apology and an undisclosed sum of money from the royal family. Of course, this is not a unique case at all. It is merely a prominent one (given the public release of the video) highlighting the rampant problem in large parts of the Arab world where the ruling class and those connected to them enjoy near absolute impunity, making a mockery of justice every time a government official speaks of "the rule of law." This is a natural outcome of the absence of any form of democracy in large parts of the Arab world. To note this is not to pretend that other countries or regions have no serious defects when it comes to democracy and accountability. But it is truly a quintessential characteristic of the autocratic regimes dominating the Arab world that no member of the ruling class can conceivably be held accountable for almost anything, or receive even a semblance of justice when they commit serious transgressions against their people.

The persistence of such 'norms' in the 21st century is completely unacceptable, and must be vigorously protested by the people of the region, with the support of people of conscience the world over, until substantive democratic developments flourish throughout the region, and everyone can be held accountable by an independent judiciary whose function is to guarantee justice for its people. To echo Martin Luther King's sentiment, justice is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.